Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 9th October 2004

Blockbuster by Tom Shone

Simon & Schuster, £18.99, pp.392

Tom Shone, the ex-film critic of The Sunday Times, is out to pick a fight. The clue is in the subtitle of this book, a surprisingly sympathetic history of Hollywood's most despised school of moviemaking. To the untrained eye, it will simply conjure up Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but more seasoned observers will spot the resemblance to the subtitle of another book, Seeing Is Believing: Or, How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties by Peter Biskind.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is a deliberate bit of provocation on Shone's part. Six years ago Biskind wrote a book called Easy Riders, Raging Bulls in which he argued that the phenomenal box office success of Jaws and Star Wars, the two films commonly acknowledged to have kick-started the blockbuster era, brought about the end of the most creative period in Hollywood's history, a period beginning with Easy Rider in 1969 and ending, appropriately enough, with Apocalypse Now in 1979. This is hardly an original point of view--indeed, it's been the conventional wisdom among movie buffs for at least 20 years--but because Easy Riders, Raging Bulls was so successful it's become a point of view closely associated with its author.

Blockbuster takes issue with the Biskind Hypothesis. Actually, that's putting it too mildly. Blockbuster flatly contradicts the Biskind Hypothesis. Shone's argument is that Hollywood went through a fallow period in the 1970s, not just financially but creatively as well, and was saved by a generation of filmmakers who spent their formative years immersed in pop culture--Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron, to name the most well-known. In Shone's startlingly original view, Jaws and Star Wars weren't just more successful films than Taxi Driver and The Last Picture Show; they were better, too. On balance, he concludes, the Blockbuster era has produced more classic movies than the period often referred to as Hollywood's "Golden Age".

Whether you're convinced by this or not, it's extremely refreshing to find a critic willing to stake out such unfashionable ground and then spend 392 pages defending it. In this respect, Blockbuster has something in common with several other recently-published non-fiction books, such as Empire: How Britain Made the Common World and Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. Unlike Niall Fergusson and David Starkey, though, Shone could never be accused of simply contradicting received opinion for the sake of attracting attention. The strangest thing about Blockbuster is that Shone clearly believes every word he says. He really does think that Robert Zemeckis, the director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, is a better filmmaker than Francis Ford Coppola.

Shone is nothing if not diligent in the prosecution of his case. Judging from the wealth of detail about films like Alien and The Terminator, he must have immersed himself in fan magazines, and the book is enriched throughout by actual interviews with all the principal players. God knows how, but he managed to persuade Spielberg and others to talk to him for days on end about their films. After reading this book, George Lucas will probably offer Shone a permanent birth on the Skywalker Ranch as his official biographer-in-residence.

Like all good critics, Shone helps his cause immeasurably by being a gifted writer. His ability to sum up an actor or director in one well-turned phrase is reminiscent of Pauline Kael's. Thus, Sigourney Weaver has "an air of hastily-gathered composure"; Back to the Future is "an exquisite piece of narrative clockwork"; and The Terminator is "a heavy-metal hymn to the textures of chrome and concrete".

As far as I know, no other critic has written a book about blockbusters as a genre--and it's hard to imagine anyone as intelligent and well-educated as Shone ever doing so again. This means he finds himself in the unusual position of having written both the first and last word on the subject. For anyone interested in film, this book is a must read.

The Spectator

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Email this article to a friend:

Your email:

Your friend's email:

Add message:

Twitter RT @SpectatorMoney: When it comes to debt, Charles Dickens offers good financial advice, says Lynne Bateson link https:/…  (3 hours ago)


The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
Father of Rhodes Must Fall campaigner broke up Nelson's marriage - Daily Mail
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch -
George Osborne and tax credits: how tough decisions get made -
The Alan and Camila Show -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Corbyn's first seven days -
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Fact Check: Britain has admitted over 5,000 Syrian refugees, not 216 -
Inside Westminster's free school -
The BBC denied The Great European Disaster Movie was EU-funded. That was untrue -
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair -
Robert Conquest obit -
Reporting on fit for work deaths isn't fit for purpose -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -
The Timothy Hunt witch hunt by Jonathan Foreman -
West London Free School Primary praised in guide to best state schools -
In defence of free schools by Toby Young -
Data briefing: free schools by the numbers -
Malcolm Gladwell's books are books are analgesics for those who seek temporary relief from abiding anxiety by John Gray -
The hypocrisy of Mehdi Hasan by Guido Fawkes -
Intolerance of humanists who attack faith schools by Brendan O'Neill -
The 13 Most Guardian Headlines Ever -
MC Gove in da house by Michael Deacon -
The criminalisation of journalism by Mick Hume -
Why educationalists hate Michael Gove by Frank Furedi -
Profile of Nigel Farage by Edward Docx -
Margaret Thatcher: The softer side by Andrew Roberts -
Margaret Thatcher: Warrior by Matthew Parris -
Margaret Thatcher: Punk savior by Niall Ferguson -
Muslims infected by virus of anti-Semitism by Mehdi Hasan -
Mila Kunis interviewed by hapless Radio 1 DJ -
Postmodern Tories by Roger Scruton -
The Wired magazine article that inspired Argo by Joshuah Bearman -
Panic! The anatomy of a political crisis by Dan Hodges -
The British intelligentsia's libel against Israel by Melanie Phillips -
Review of Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Zöe Heller -
The Guardian has become the Vichy Evening News by Dan Hodges -
Spectator would defy new state regulator by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
Daily Mail investigation into the Leveson Inquiry - Daily Mail
The hight-minded, Left-wing paedo hunters by Frank Furedi -
Britain's press must remain free by Tim Luckhurst -
Obit of a legendary Labour whip by Nick Robinson -
Referring to students as "learners" is infantilizing by Denis Hayes
Toby Young for Prime Minister by Jake Wallis Simons -
The election that never was by Damian McBride -
JK Rowling's new novel is boring, Left-wing agitprop by Jan Moir - Daily Mail
Naomi Wolf: Dotty and Dim by Zöe Heller -
Gove Levels - Daily Mail
The End of Men? by Hanna Rosin -
Five conservative messages smuggled into Dark Knight Rises by John Boot -
Multiculturalism? Nonsense. The Olympics are a victory for patriotism and common British values by Dan Hannan - Daily Mail
Martin Durkin's dyspeptic view of the Olympics opening ceremony -
Batman: The ultimate conservative hero by Robert Colville -
The day Gordon Brown came to power by Damian McBride -
Owen Jones *is* Justin Beiber by Dan Hodges -
Why Britain shouldn't be part of a European super-state by Charles Moore -
The shame of Britain's public school elite by Matthew Norman -
In defence of Murdoch by John O'Sullivan -
In politics, you're either up or down by John Kampfner - The Independent
James Lovelock recants - Daily Mail
Let's give Polly Toynbee the Britain she wants by Tim Worstall -
Why Labour should support free schools by Andrew Adonis -
Free schools are breaking down barrier to decent education for all by Charles Moore -
The anti-academies campaign is led by Trots, says Michael Gove -
Profit need not be a dirty word in education by Fraser Nelson -
The Magnificent Victory at Cardinal Vaughan by Charles Moore -
Academies policy has been rapidly vindicated by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
Mossbourne Academy's outstanding A-level results - Guardian
I blame therapy culture for the riots by Dennis Hayes -
Why I'm a Conservative by Toby Young -
The Government must crack the teaching unions by His Grace -
"Ideological" is Labour's empty insult by Dominic Lawson - The Independent
Peter Sissons dissects the BBC's leftwing bias - Daily Mail
Interview with Toby Young in Attain magazine -
Topic of Cancer by Christopher Hitchens - Vanity Fair


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film